I've never seen a grateful man unhappy. Never. But I don't think it's something that can be taught. It's a practice that grows in strength with repeated use. And celebrations of gratitude reinforce the yield of abundance of a grateful mind. So early in the day we all took some time to write gratitude letters, then went to the beach and made a beautiful fire. After a game of tag and some silly pictures, we ate s'mores and read each other our letters. It was a touching moment for me as the father of two incredible, strong and beautiful children. Watching them grow up with grateful minds and an appreciation for the outdoors and being together, I was overwhelmed with emotions that I can't imagine living without. After each letter, we burned them in the fire, then played guitar and sang songs. On the ride home, I had a quiet and humble heart. How do I deserve this? My response to so much love and goodness is to pay it back to my life and to my higher power with the only currency I know it accepts. Gratitude.
One of the hardest lessons you'll learn in life is how to balance your trajectory with your reality, how to attach yourself to the things that move you forward and to let go of the things that don't.
Four years ago this July, I suffered a needed and devastating blow to my ego as I watched everything I loved disappear from me. I was alcoholic and making an unmanageable mess of my life. For the first time, I finally saw that I was the source of all of my problems, and I was the reason for everything and everyone slipping away.
As I stood on the precipice of ruin, I made one decision that has directed the course of my life ever since: I got truly sober.
Having to suffer so much loss at my own hands, and having to come face to face with all that I had become, my interior was shaken open, and I was willing: willing to do whatever I could to not face that kind of pain again. This is the first time I have publicly shared my story, and I will spare the details, but in continuing my sobriety, I have had to live out a daily, conscious renewal of commitment, as best as I can for a better life. To this day, it has worked.
A balancing act of learning to stay constant and letting go has been my every day, whether in work or love, The principles that keep me sober for another day have been my path. And even as of recent, I've had to say goodby to people that I love because I must stay balanced on my principles. I do not allow myself the luxury of chance, and while the sacrifices have been real, I live to see another sober day with a calm belly, a clear head and with a feeling of clean inside that I knew nothing of four years ago.
I have given up taking chances in order to live in a grace I don't deserve.
This past year, I dedicated myself to a year alone. I set on paper the four things most important in my life: my sobriety, my kids, my teaching and my photography. I analyzed every love I've ever had, the good and the bad. I simplified my mental space and quieted my drives to focus on only that which brings me real happiness, joy and calm. It was an attempt to reclaim balance by letting go and resting on principles.
But it has been the best year I've had since I got sober. I found Something new: the feeling of what it's like when I'm happy, all alone, focused on the things that matter to me, restful, useful, calm.
The lesson of this year, from what I can understand, has been that no one and no thing can make you happy, only the clear recognition of what matters most and the resolve to commit to it, even in the face of having to let go of so many things you might love. If it doesn't fit the principles and priorities of your life, no matter how good it is, no matter how much you love it, it's only a matter of time before your principles and priorities disapear and you're left with nothing but an empty set. I don't ever want to feel that way again, and so I have had to let go of the things that don't fit, things I've loved and wanted, in order to remain sober for another day: a balance between staying constant and letting go.
If any of you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, I urge you to seek help, and if you want some direction on where and how to get it, I would happily share with you what I have so freely been given. One day at a time.
Instagram and Snapchat have been rated as the two worst social media apps for young people, according to a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health. But is this really news, and is it at all consequential? The report shows significant impact on young minds relating to bullying, poor self-image and anxiety, yet while these apps certainly offer opportunity for bad behavior and negative thinking, the single greatest factor surrounding these problems has to be noted: simple adolescence.
Physical comparison, jockeying for social position, fear of being rejected by the group are not caused by social media. They've merely had a change of location, from classroom to IPhone, from AP to app.
These are perennial puberty problems, perennial people problems. How could they not be perennial social media problems? The location has changed but not the conditions. Adolescent development happens in the context of comparison of worth, competition, and social anxiety. There are certainly healthy and very unhealthy forms of these phenomena, and social media does contribute to some of their unhealthiest forms, but the solutions do not rest in hedging social media access or entirely ineffective anti-social media campaigns.
We are dealing with the same issue that has always existed: the teaching of young people how to manage their emotions and to live socially amongst their fellows. It's bootwork education, not bookworm education.
For all the distraction of social media, couldn't we put more effort into teaching our youth, and ourselves, how to better handle our anger, fear, jealousy and anxiety? Real impact comes from real solutions to the right problems.
Endnote: nowhere am I advocating ignoring the effects of poor self-image, bullying or anxiety. These are real problems, with need of real solutions of their own.
"There but for the grace of God, go I." Originally attributed to John Bradford in the 16th century, upon witnessing a group of prisoners headed to execution. Bradford, ironically, was burned at the stake, imprisoned and executed for his religious beliefs. His words speak to me as I walk through the streets of Los Angeles and see the anonymous bodies of the homeless suffering their own imprisonment. I feel that but for some kind of grace, there is no reason it should not be me.
People matter. But you have to see them first. The homeless are nameless, without history, easily ignored and rejected.
How can they have been so unlucky, so lacking in what I have received so undeservingly and freely?
Why not me? I cannot claim any attribute that I deserve that makes me more worthy than any of them. And what is the proper response? Pity? That seems disgustingly pretensious, ignorant, naive of my own undeserved privelege.
John Paul Sartre said, "the poor don't know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity." That to me is the profound truth. Not pity, not sympathy, not even kindness is worthy of these men and women who exist anonymously on our streets. There is one thing and one thing we owe them, generosity...of means, of spirit, of humanity.
But for the grace of God...
When I was younger, I was a skinny, awkward kid, but my role models were pot smoking, long hairs in rock bands. So, of course I grew my hair, bought a '68 Volkswagen bus and learned how to play guitar. But the voices in my head didn't stop: you're not good enough, people think you're stupid, you're too skinny and awkward....what's wrong with you?
For years I chased my own image in rebels and street punks. I projected the image of cool outwardly, but on the inside I was shaking and afraid.
I felt like a phony, a fraud.
I could no longer stand who I was, and I didn't know who I wanted to be. I had lost touch with my own voice and I was lost.
The voices in our head, the models we think we are following, the expectations we don't know how to live up to. They all take their toll. I felt the weight and the pressure until one summer day it finally broke me. Too much.
What is it that makes the self? Is it what we classify ourselves? Is it the relationships we have? The things we do? I spend a lot of time on this question, and I explore it in my photography. In this self-portrait session, I took myself far away to get out of the city and into the nowhere. I contemplated the different phases of my struggle as as an artist, as a father, as a man working to make something out of himself inside and out. After, I took up the pen and wrote. In my discovery, similar to what Pico Iyer says, I found that every moment I try to capture the self as it is through my art, the instance it is finished, I no longer remain what I was. This isn't a psychological or philosophical point. It's just a matter of experience. The self adapts and changes too quickly to document.
I don't normally shoot Cosplay, but I met Joanna a few months ago at an event and then ran into her again at a meetup a friend invited me to. I can't imagine what it takes to get into costume and character, but however she does it, Joanna Lynnbert (who owns the princess business!) makes make believe believable.
The recent political environment has taken an unprecedented turn. In almost poetic form, the available metaphors have captured my imagination.
The great British journalist and apologist, G. K. Chesterton once reflected....
"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle...let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence." One side doesn't see the use, and wants to do away with it; while the other side argues that if you can't see the use, then you have no case against it. The paradox of course rests on the fact the fence did not grow there, the divide is not natural. And for some reason, someone thought it was a good idea for it to be there. The fence that divides the two Americas of today aren't natural either; they were built there, whether 50 or 250 years ago. It doesn't really matter. But that divide is the cornerstone of our democracy. It's the platform upon which rests our willingness to compromise, to bend, and to be forced to work together despite every effort and reason not to.